by Fernando Haro Garcia, Long Beach Post News
A judge today rejected a 36-year-old man’s request to be resentenced for his role in the murder of an off-duty sheriff’s deputy in Long Beach more than 15 years ago.
If he had been resentenced, Justin Ashley Flint would have been immediately eligible to be released from prison, but Long Beach Superior Court Judge Daniel J. Lowenthal refused his request, instead finding that Flint knew Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Maria Rosa was a peace officer when he participated in a robbery that ended in her death.
“If it was anyone else, if it was a civilian, they would have been robbed. It would have been traumatic, but they would have been home that night having dinner with their loved ones,” Lowenthal said.
Authorities say Flint was with Frank Gonzalez when they approached Rosa as she was placing her purse in the trunk of her car in the 2900 block of Eucalyptus Avenue on the morning of March 28, 2006. She was getting ready to go to work when Gonzalez robbed and shot her, according to court records.
Though there were no witnesses to the murder, a neighbor who lived roughly a block away told police that he had seen two men on bicycles riding past his house and then moments later heard gunshots.
Detectives scoured the neighborhood for evidence, eventually finding a video from a nearby bank that showed the two men who were riding bicycles. Using images from the video, they prepared flyers offering a reward for information about the cyclists.
A few months later, officers conducted a wiretap and intercepted a phone call that suggested Gonzalez, was the gunman who killed Rosa.
Following an undercover operation involving Gonzalez and Flint, who were both in prison for unrelated charges, authorities confirmed that Gonzalez was the shooter and Flint was with him when the crime occurred.
Flint, who at the time of his arrest was described by police as a 19-year-old meth addict, was convicted of first-degree murder and attempted robbery in 2007. He was sentenced to 29 years to life in prison.
Gonzalez, described in court documents as a 25-year-old gang member, was also found guilty of the same crimes but was sentenced to death after jurors found true the special-circumstance allegation of murder during an attempted robbery and the allegation that he used a gun to kill Rosa.
On Dec. 27, 2018, Flint filed a petition for resentencing under a new California law, SB 1437, which affects the convictions and sentences of defendants in some murder cases. Before SB 1437, someone could be charged with murder even in a situation where they were not the actual killer or a primary participant in the crime. SB 1437 prevents that, except in the case when someone kills a peace officer.
In Flint’s case, though it was proven that Gonzalez was the gunman, the petition was denied because he was a “major participant who acted with reckless indifference to human life,” according to court records.
A three-justice panel from California’s Second District Court of Appeal last year reversed the decision but ruled the prosecution would have the opportunity to prove that Flint was not eligible for resentencing because he knew or should have known that Rosa was a peace officer acting within the course of her duties.
Deputy District Attorney Mary Murray told Judge Lowenthal during a hearing Wednesday that Flint “saw and heard everything” and had a “front-row seat” during the attack on Rosa.
Flint’s attorney, Edmont T. Barrett, countered that the prosecution’s case was based on the assumption that Rosa displayed her sheriff’s badge and that Flint was close enough to see it.
The defense lawyer argued that the badge was found inside a shopping bag in the car’s trunk and suggested that it had never come out of the bag, saying there was nothing other than the badge to indicate that she was a law enforcement officer.
But ultimately, on Thursday, Lowenthal denied the petition, citing evidence from the undercover police operation where Flint and Gonzalez talk about their roles in Rosa’s killing and other conversations where they admit to knowing Rosa was a sheriff’s deputy before the shooting erupted.
He said it was his belief that Rosa’s badge was not inside the bag but on top of the bag, adding that he believed Rosa acted in conformity with her training and showed Gonzalez her badge early that morning.
“This badge is the reason that Deputy Rosa is no longer with us,” Lowenthal said following his ruling.
“In adhering to her legal and moral duty as a peace officer, she attempted to subdue the assailant, and as a result thereof, lost her life,” Lowenthal said.
In 2021, the California Supreme Court upheld Gonzalez’s conviction and death sentence following an appeal.
City News Service contributed to this report.